We love reading up on JC history, and this month we want to talk up The Jersey City Armory – located at 678 Montgomery in McGinley Square. The Beaux-Arts building is the State headquarters for New Jersey’s National Guard, supervised by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veteran Affairs and leased to JC as a recreational facility. The building has a storied, interesting past, much like Jersey City itself. So, give yourself a quick break from the holiday rush, grab a cup of something hot and read up on this interesting historical building in your urban backyard!
The Armory was constructed in 1937 during the Depression as part of FDR’s New Deal, with federal funds from the PWA (Public Works Administration). The project was carried out by a team of Jersey City residents. General Hugh Kelly of the JC firm of Kelly and Gruzen served as chief architect and appointed Hugh Clark and fellow architect J.K. Harris-Smith to complete the work. The result was a 175,000 square-foot, three-story beaux-arts structure with English Renaissance features, a granite base, brick exterior wall, and terra cotta trim. Decorative terra cotta panels with military insignias are on the second floor of each of three projecting pavilions.
The Armory was renovated in the 80’s and again in the late 90’s to allow for community use, reflecting a regional movement of the time for local armories to provide a space for youth educational services and programs. In 2002 Jersey City received a grant from the New Jersey Department of Human Services to expand the use of the Armory for after-school activities through the City’s Recreation Department. Four years and 6 million dollars’ worth of restoration work later, the building reopened with an official ceremony on January 3, 2006. Enhancements included a state-of-the-art running track, a new basketball floor, seating, scoreboards and lighting. Local high school and college teams have competed in basketball and track and field events in the space, including the famous St. Anthony’s Friars Basketball Team. Coach Bob Hurley, who led the Friars to 28 of their 30 State Championships, was instrumental in these renovations and the Armory’s evolution into a modern sports arena.
Throughout the years, the Armory has housed exhibits, ethnic festivals, entertainment events, and prizefights. Chuck Wepner, aka the “Bayonne Bleeder,” lost to former heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston in the ninth round at a match held at the Armory on June 29, 1970. Perhaps most famously, in 1972, Former New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne and former Jersey City Mayor Thomas F.X. Smith entered the boxing ring at the Armory with Mohammed Ali at a benefit event for the Jersey City Medical Center. The Armory also saw brief use as a training facility for the Metropolitan Football League and as a studio for hire for the film industry. If you are by the Armory, be sure to check out the mural (located on the façade of the building) and tribute to World War 1 hero Vincent Pantozzi. That’s today in Jersey City history!